Siquijor, pronounced "See-Kee-Hor" is a small island in the Visayas. The island was previously called Isla del Fuego (Island of Fire) during the Spanish colonial period of the Philippines due to the intensity of fireflies present on the island and has a long-standing reputation as a place of magic and sorcery - likely due to the many natural healers found on the island.
We were lucky enough to spend a whole week exploring Siquijor and after being in the Philippines for more than a month we were happy to find such a laid back location with a strong local vibe. It has plenty to keep you busy but it is also a perfect place to just relax and it's super easy to find a secluded little beach where you can be completely alone to while away a few hours (or days!).
With a 102 km coastline scattered with white sand beaches between steep cliffs, an ocean full of tropical marine life and a mountainous interior, Siquijor has it all. The island can easily be explored and even circumnavigated by scooter in a day.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR SIQUIJOR
Siquijor is an enchanting island and is well worth a visit so don’t be discouraged by the higher transportation costs and a slightly higher rate of difficulty getting around the island on a tricycle. The relatively low cost of accommodation at resorts and the super friendly people will far make up for the extra transportation money spent. The island has two port locations, one in the capital town of Siquijor itself and the other in the town of Larena - so be sure you know where your boat will be arriving/departing!
To travel from Cebu to Siquijor, you have 2 options. The quickest way is to take a ferry to Bohol (Tagbilaran) and then continue by ferry to Siquijor (Larena Pier). Another option is travel overland to the south of Cebu by bus (Batu Bus Depot), take a tricycle to Liloan Port and from there take a ferry to Dumaguete. You then make your way to Dumaguete Port by Tricycle and take another ferry to Siquijor, which will dock at Siquijor Pier. It is also possible to get on a bus at Cebu South Bus Terminal and go all the way to the bus terminal in Dumaguete - the bus uses the 'RORO' ferry between Bato and Tempi. You then make your way to the Dumaguete Port by tricycle and proceed as above.
Multiple ferries go to Tagbilaran daily, but you can only take the 7:00 trip if you still want to catch the ferry to Siquijor on the same day as currently, the ONLY ferry departs at 10:20 from Tagbilaran. Including transfer time, the total journey will take around 4 hours - which is still considerably faster than taking the bus and ferry and will save you a lot of waiting time.
Once you arrive in Larena Port, take a Tricycle to your final destination. Expect to pay an (unofficially standardised) fare of PHP250 between each town. If you find the need to go between two towns, then the fare is PHP500, PHP750, etc. A private Tricycle hire for the day will cost about PHP1200 if your negotiation skills are good. As the arrival times of ferries are well known there is an initial mad rush of Tricycle drivers, van hire, trinket sellers and offers fro scooter rentals at the arrivals area. We found it best to walk past the chaos and ignore all the initial offers, and head for one of the many carendarias close to the Hypermart for a snack. Once the rush is over, the tricycle drivers are a lot more open to negotiations for a better fare.
The major towns on Suquijor Island are listed below, in geographical order, counter-clockwise around the island starting with Larena which is both the most populous town and also the largest port which the large boats travel to. Supercat 2Go and Oceanjet have regularly scheduled trips here, while smaller boating companies port at Siquijor:
• Larena • Siquijor • San Juan • Lazi • Maria • Enrique Valencia
The town of Siquijor may be the Capital of the Province, but it remains a very small and simple town, with only a few streets and no large scale shops. That said, you should be able to find everything you need for your stay, from fresh fruit and vegetables at the public market, to medication from one of the two pharmacies and any other odds and ends from one of the many convenience stores. There are also a few small Carinderias (some inside the Public Market and others street-side) and you can easily grab a slow-roasted whole chicken or Liempo (slow-roasted pork belly) from the few Liempo Vendors.
We spent a week in an Airbnb apartment just outside of the town and were easily able to feed ourselves with the choices available. If you are looking for western restaurants, you may need to explore a little further towards the Paliton Beach / San Juan area.
Approaching Siquijor Town from the Pier, you will find the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, with the Siquijor Bell Tower right next to it. The church is often referred to as Siquijor Church as it welcomes everyone arriving at Siquijor Port. The parish was founded in 1783 with the church as a simple Nipa Hut and was only converted into the coral stone structure that you can see today during the colonial era in 1831. The Bell Tower was constructed in 1891 to serve as a watchtower and warning station.
There are a few small beaches which dot the coast around Siquijor Town, but these are not the most pristine and at low tide, there is very little water for swimming. Some resorts front onto nice little beaches, but the best beaches are found around the rest of the island.
Siquijor’s second port town, Larena is currently the busier of the two ports. The town is similar in size to Siquijor Town, but it currently boasts the only “Supermarket” on the island, ‘Prince Hypermart’. A convenient air-conditioned shop where you can find everything under one roof, just keep your expectations in check! The remainder of the town is similar to Siquijor Town and there are a fair number of roadside Carinderias near the pier where you can enjoy a well priced and tasty local meal or snack.
The nearest white sand beach is about 7km north in Sandugan. Here you will find a long stretch of white sand dotted with a few small resorts.
With an elevation of 557m, Mount Bandilaan is Siquijor's highest point and is located within the Mt. Bandilaan National Park. It’s an easy 15-minute walk to the top, although the path is not that well maintained. This is considered a sacred place where Siquijor’s famous ‘mananambals’ and faith healers are rumoured to take their herbs and perform their rituals. You will find a variety of potions, oils, healing amulets, charms and necklaces at the foot of the mountain.
When we arrived, they were busy with roadworks such that it was not possible to access the entrance to the National Park by road. Luckily, there is another free access point just down the road with a sign that reads “Mountain View”. Here you will find a staircase cut into the earth which leads to the top of one of the highest points in the area and from which you can explore quite a few of the rolling hills to get absolutely magnificent panoramic views. Definitely worth stopping here!
Just outside Cang-apa and on your way to the Mount Bandilaan National park, the Butterfly Sanctuary is signposted from the main road.
GUIWANON SPRING PARK
A resort with wooden bridges that wind through the mangroves and nipa hut structures to relax in. A great place to visit if you have not yet seen mangroves up close or even if you just enjoy being in nature.
CENTURY OLD BALETE TREE
The Century-Old Balete Tree is believed to be over 400 years old and is covered in hundreds of roots and vines. The tree is supposedly enchanted as the leaves, bark and roots are believed to have healing properties. You will be able to purchase small bottles of these ‘healing remedies’ from the vendors there to put them to the test! One thing that does make Siquijor's balete tree special is the natural spring that originates from its base, flowing straight into the manmade pool where you can enjoy a natural fish spa. There is a small entrance fee payable.
San Juan is home to plenty of tourist accommodation and western influence restaurants and beachside bars. If you want to be in the hip and happening area of Siquijor, then San Juan is just that. There are many beaches to choose from, including San Juan Beach, Tubod Beach and Marine Sanctuary (great for snorkelling) and Paliton Beach (great for sunset).
Close to San Juan, Lugnason Falls is a less busy alternative to Cambugahay Falls. There is a parking and entry fee and the local guides will take you to the falls. Here you can enjoy a swim and also a Tarzan rope swing, much like at Cambugahay Falls but with fewer people around!
CAPILAY SPRING PARK
A natural spring-fed swimming pool in the area of San Juan. This is a favourite amongst the locals over weekends, to relax in the shade and take a swim in the cool spring waters.
SAN ISIDRO LABRADOR CONVENT AND CHURCH
Located in the town of Lazi, San Isidro Labrador Convent and church are reputed to be the biggest and one of the oldest convents in the Philippines. The Spaniards started construction in 1887 and it was only completed in 1894. Today it is declared as a historical landmark by the Philippine Historical Commission.
This impressive 3 tiered waterfall just outside Lazi is the most popular waterfall of Siquijor. That means lots of tourists and also ever-increasing entrance fees. Do yourself a favour and make sure to visit the falls in the morning, not only to avoid the crowds but more importantly to ensure that the sun is shining on the water! Later afternoons are generally quieter, but the falls are not half as beautiful when they are in the shade. There are great areas for swimming and rope swinging and jump from the one tier of the waterfall. If you want to escape the crowds, take a short hike and head to one of the other tiers of the waterfall which very people bother visiting.
About 6 km northeast of Maria, you will find the very popular Salagdoong Beach and Resort area. This place is a favourite with the locals for the cliff jumping. You will need to pay an entrance and parking fee for the day and can then relax on the small beaches, swim in the clear water and enjoy the two cliff jumps of 7m and 10m high. Just note that the cliff jumps are only open for a few hours around high tide each day when the water is deep enough to allow for safe jumping. To be honest, we were rather disappointed with the beaches as they are small, full of coral and there were far too many tourists there. The real attraction here is the cliff jumping which is great fun if you enjoy that kind of adventure activity! Even if you don’t plan on jumping, it’s great fun to watch others jump and many chickening out of jumping in the last minute! On the way to the beach, you drive through Salagdoong Forest Reserve, which a man-made forest with Molave trees.
Just south of Maria, you will find Kagusuan Beach. Depending on the season, this can be a perfect sandy beach away from the crowds and with spectacular natural beauty all around.
Located inland, these caves are a popular adventure activity. Make sure that you are prepared to be walking bent over, getting wet well above your knees and that you do not have any fear of enclosed spaces as it takes about 1.5 hr to walk through the caves and shallow waters. You need to register in the town before venturing inside as they assign a local guide to you as a requirement for entering the caves.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIQUIJOR
While Siquijor can probably be visited on a day trip if you are based in Dumaguete City, it is still a best to stay on the island for a few days to better appreciate what it has to offer.
San Juan is where you will find most backpacker accommodation and resorts. It's a popular area and the sunset views are the best from this part of the island. You will find plenty of activities during night time and numerous restaurants spread out along the main road.
Some recommendations around the island include:
Coco Grove Beach Resort is an extremely popular choice for San Juan. This beachfront resort offers native style cottages and villas. There are plenty highly recommend resorts around the island such as Jelly Sea Resort, Infinity Heights Resort, Bermuda Triangle Bungalows and White Villas Resort.
For backpackers and budget travellers, favourites include JJ’s Backpackers which offers basic and budget-friendly accommodation in San Juan.
If you want something slightly more off-beat (and still budget-friendly) check out the 'Hobbit Houses' at Kamp Aninipot which has a magnificent hilltop location with views that goes on for days.
There are plenty of worthwhile options available on Airbnb and we had a great week-long stay in a rural area near Siquijor Town at Gal's Guesthouse. It offered us the comfort of a complete freestanding apartment with high-speed internet, equipped kitchen, dining table and lounge, and large conditioned bedroom. The host arranged us a scooter for the duration of our stay and we found it a brilliant spot to be based to explore the island.